If there’s one thing to know about what millennials want in the workplace, it’s that they crave a sense of purpose. So much that, according to one study, millennials prefer a company that gives them the chance to drive meaningful progress over one that offers a higher paycheck.
Millennials’ rush to take the next positive step forward is unmatched, and the attitude is a reaction to the world around them. Thanks to technology, millennials have access to information that previous generations didn’t. Our world is more transparent than ever, and millennials’ minds brim with ideas about how to make it a better one.
Regardless of whether the social, economic, and political circumstances millennials grew up in actually demand more attention than they did for previous generations, one thing is for sure: millennials are paying it. In light of the unprecedented level of connection the modern world offers, is it any wonder that a sense of purpose is what millennials want in the workplace most of all?
They want a sense of purpose, but toward what?
Existing research is clear in its assertion that millennials want a sense of purpose, but the line of inquiry stops there. The next logical question is: a purpose towards what? While experts have discovered, confirmed, and confirmed again that millennials want purpose at work more than anything else, you’d be hard-pressed to find a report that digs deeper into what, exactly, they want that purpose to be.
That’s a consequence of the way this research is conducted. For example, Gallup’s most recent How Millennials Want to Work and Live report broadly defines purpose as, “liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals.” Other research on the topic has similarly vague parameters.
While this type of inclusive definition is a great place to start when understanding what millennials want in the workplace, the insight would be more actionable if it were followed by questions that investigate this characteristic millennial drive in more detail.
It’s time to unpack what, exactly, millennials want their purpose to be.
What do millennials mean by “purpose?”
When millennials talk about wanting a sense of purpose, do they mean a self-serving sense of purpose (as in the feeling that one’s current job is a launching pad aimed towards their next big goal)? This would certainly make sense, given the rampant self-comparison present in a world made so transparent by social media. Even the most benevolent users aren’t immune to the pressure to stay on par with their peers.
Or maybe, the sense of purpose that defines what millennials want in the workplace has more to do with opportunities to contribute to something larger than themselves. If that’s the case, at what scale? Team? Community? The world as a whole?
All of the Above
Truthfully, it remains to be determined whether one of these purpose-drivers means more to millennials than the others, but there is good reason to believe that each holds its own appeal.
Companies looking to cater to what millennials want in the workplace would be best advised to address all levels of purpose. Not only will this distinguish the organization as a more appealing and engaging employer for millennials in the workforce, the strategies that allow companies to foster a strong sense of purpose in their employees also happen to be in your business’s best interest.
Let’s start by discussing three distinct tiers of purpose and what they mean to millennials and offering actionable ideas for how to refine each at your own organization. Then, we’ll address how these initiatives will serve not only your millennial employees, but your company as a whole.
By the end of this article, you’ll understand what millennials want in the workplace, how to offer it, and why it’s in your company’s best interest to do so.
3 Tiers of Purpose (and What They Mean to Millennials)
1. Professional Purpose
Millennials compare themselves to their peers more than any previous generation — mostly because they now have the tools to do so. Social sites like LinkedIn enable users to publicly broadcast all their professional achievements, resulting in an (often unintentional) climate of competition among peers. Unsurprisingly, opportunities for growth and professional progress take high priority on the list of what millennials want in the workplace.
Their insatiable craving for a sense of professional purpose leads many millennials to experience burnout. Burnout happens if a person works furiously, when they should really work strategically. Constant productivity is not the recipe for a successful career. Quite the opposite — it’s a reliable way to run yourself into a state of such deep exhaustion that even the most menial tasks seem daunting. The worst cases of burnout manifest as physical symptoms including headaches, stomach pains, and trouble sleeping.
No employee functioning in a state of burnout is equipped to pursue their professional purpose.
Try This Instead
A better way to provide what millennials want in the workplace is to embed your organization with abundant opportunities for professional growth. Host lunchtime lectures about topics that appeal to the whole team. Consider offering full or partial reimbursement for seminars and classes related to employees’ career goals. Most importantly, train managers to speak openly with their team members about the employees’ professional ambition and encourage leaders to support its pursuit. The average millennial wants to touch base with their manager at least once a week, and these regular one-on-one’s are a great opportunity to have those conversations.
Thoughtfully cultivated career development opportunities are a far more sustainable way to allow millennials to experience the sense of professional purpose they desire — not to mention the clear message that these opportunities send about the way your company cares for its people.
2. Team Purpose
The second tier in our discussion of what millennials want in the workplace is a sense of team purpose.
This means millennials want to feel like the team they belong to — whether that’s defined as one department, one location, or the entire company — is making significant progress forward. Beyond that, millennials need to know that they specifically play a key role in driving said progress.
Establish Shared Goals
Start by making sure your whole team is aligned towards the same goal(s). It’s hard for a team to move forward without a clear sense of direction. Additionally, shared goals are essential to creating a sense of team purpose. Ensure your employees regularly engage with the high-level outcomes they’re working to realize.
To align your team with its goals, communicate clearly and openly about what your team’s most lucrative objectives are. It’s helpful if you can also provide some insight into why those goals have been set. Having a why behind the what makes the how that much easier. Plan for your company’s CEO or a department’s most senior-level executive to share and discuss major goals regularly. This will ensure a high level of awareness around the direction your team plans to progress in the long-term.
Build Peer-to-Peer Relationships
Next, make sure your team truly feels like a team. Strong peer-to-peer relationships are the bedrock of the feeling of unity that’s characteristic of successful teams.
Employers can support strong relationships between colleagues through team outings, peer-to-peer recognition programs, and the occasional company-funded happy hour. Peer-to-peer recognition programs are an especially worthwhile investment because in addition to building trust and allowing colleagues to demonstrate appreciation for one another, recognition also offers an opportunity to underscore how an individual achievement contributes to the teams’ larger purpose.
The final step in delivering the team purpose component of what millennials want in the workplace is ensuring employees understand the critical role their individual contributions play in team or company progress overall.
Whether it comes from a peer or a manager, it’s important to recognize employees for excellent work. If you can orient recognition around major company goals, you strengthen its impact even more. Ideally, a recognition platform will enable you to set custom recognition occasions tied to specific company goals so that every instance of recognition builds team purpose too.
3. Community Purpose
Finally, the highest-level purpose millennials seek has to do with contributing to something larger than themselves via their careers.
Once again, the fact that this is what millennials want in the workplace is a direct byproduct of the transparent worldview they’ve experienced since childhood. They know what’s happening not only in their local communities but across the country, continent, and even on the other side of the world. Not only do they know, they care — a lot.
As a result, millennials are notorious for seeking out positions at mission-driven companies that give them the opportunity to pay it forward to a larger community (local, global, or otherwise). Whether that means working for a certified B-Corporation or seeking out a job that offers VTO (the philanthropic counterpart of PTO: volunteer time off), 9 out of 10 millennials would take a pay cut for a job that lets them deliver on this craving to make the world a better place.
Any Company Can Foster Community Purpose
Even if your company’s mission is not inherently philanthropic, there are still many ways employers can enable millennials to give back to the larger community.
Companies that use rewards and recognition for team building already have a tool that can double as a community impact driver. For example, you can set up custom redemption options that allow employees to donate their points to an organization of their choosing. You’ll have an easy, built-in way to provide what millennials want in the workplace. You can also offer VTO, commit a percentage of the company’s earnings to charity, or simply ask millennials how they would like to see your company serve the broader community.
Millennials are acutely aware of the fact that the relationship between business and community can, should, and arguably needs to be symbiotic. They will always favor the company that provides community value. Measures like these are a smart step towards giving what millennials want in the workplace.
Why What Millennials Want in the Workplace Is Good for Companies, Too
Obviously providing what millennials want in the workplace makes your company a more appealing employer with a better chance of attracting and retaining top millennial talent. But beyond that, acting on what millennials’ want in the workplace means taking on initiatives that directly strengthen your business.
Consider the following: if you commit to inspiring a sense of professional purpose in your millennial workforce, many of your team members will take on new career growth opportunities.
Not only does this help them on an individual level, it turns them into stronger, more educated, and more engaged employees. Successful companies are made of strong individual employees, so it’s in your business’s best interest to make this investment. Additionally, high employee engagement combats burnout, and less burnout means less turnover — yet another bonus for your business.
The same kind of double-win scenario happens when companies commit to fostering a sense of team purpose. Stable peer-to-peer relationships are correlated with increased levels of employee engagement, which is a key ingredient for productivity as well. If that’s not convincing enough, a clear sense of team-purpose will keep your employees sharply aligned with the goals you’ve set out for them.
Last but not least, opportunities to give back to the global community will foster a sense of personal fulfillment and distinguish your company from others as an organization that cares about something more than profit.
Why is this a good thing? Just as millennials tend to favor mission-driven companies, consumers and customers prefer companies with ethics, too.
Thankfully, what millennials want also leads in to sustainable company success. When employers respond proactively millennials’ desire for professional, team, and community purpose, they ultimately put the company in a smarter strategic position, too. What’s good for the millennial is good for all.
Katerina Mery is a Marketing Specialist at Fond with a background in cognitive psychology and a passion for improving the way people live and work. She especially enjoys learning about how to accomplish this through rewards and recognition. In her spare time, you can find Katerina running outside, admiring art, and exploring the latest and greatest local restaurants.